Thursday, 26 October 2017

YASMINA'S NECKLACE by Rohina Malik at the Goodman Theatre

     YASMINA'S NECKLACE traces the developing relationship of Sam, the son of a Middle-Eastern father and a Puerto Rican mother, both Muslims, and Yasmina, an Iraqi refugee living in Chicago with her father. Sam has shamed his parents twice: first by changing his name to a generic American one in order to get a job and, second, by being a divorcee. Since the collapse of his marriage to Tracy, a non-Muslim, Sam has been depressed, confused and dependent on four medications to keep him going. Since his American-style romantic marriage didn't work, his parents want him to have a traditional arranged marriage. Yasmina's father is eager for her to find a husband but Yasmina is haunted by her past in Iraq and in exile in Syria. She deals with her past through her painting but doesn't want anyone to see them. For the most part, their romance is a conventional fictional romance--hate at first sight, then developing friendship, then love and marriage after which things briefly turn a bit less conventional. Yasmina repeatedly tells Sam that she's broken and that she's bound to hurt him but he continues to woo her. He's in love so all will be well. The play also includes brief flashbacks to Yasmina's past with the young man she loved since childhood and the intelligence officers and soldiers who abused her.
     Yasmina could be an interesting character but Malik's clumsiness as a dramatist keeps getting in the way of her storytelling. It's a dark story but Malik seems to want to write a crowd pleaser that doesn't really go to the dark places in Yasmina's past and in her psyche. It's all too nice. The parents are out of a sitcom, the Imam who engineers the relationship is too bland. The flashbacks aren't dark enough given their content. Yasmina has been seriously abused but the play doesn't make us feel that. The climax of the play only makes us ask why Yasmina doesn't tell Sam what's haunting her until after the wedding. Sam tells us that he's troubled but he doesn't seem very troubled. The play stays on the emotional level of a Hallmark made-for-tv film. Ann Filmer's direction reinforces the script's weaknesses. The rhythm of the production is off. There is no sense of forward momentum. The flashbacks are awkwardly handled.
     The actors do what they can with the material. Susan Jamshidi is so good that one wishes her part were better written, that the pain really came through in the script and direction. Michael Perez is sweet as Sam but the part is too one-dimensional. The parents have been directed to play their roles as if this were a sitcom.
     As written and directed, YASMINA'S NECKLACE makes a dark story bland. And, by the way, I don't for a minute believe the ending.

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